We left Part 8 with gun winger Ousmane Dembele lounged in my office noting how important Champions League football was to him.
He was joined eventually by Julian Draxler, Joan Jordan and Federico Mattiello. The relaxing and quiet offseason I’d planned was about to get blown up.
So what went down?
Well firstly I promised them all we’d qualify off the back of the coming season. That promise came with an almost immediate increased degree of difficulty.
We’ll need to be top three in the upcoming season to qualify.
By the end of the transfer window only one of those players would be left.
Dembele went early in the window but we were able to negotiate up from an initial 15m offer to 25m rising to 30m. At 24, his best years are ahead of him and we’d just started to see that maturity in his performance of the previous season. We were able to recoup what we paid whilst retaining 45% of the funds to be used to rebuild the squad.
Our response was to turn to an old friend. Olly Zinchenko’s contract at Man City was up, so the chance to replace Dembele without having to meet a fee was too good to pass up. Olly played in our first full season at Valencia and was part of the push that got us to third in that year. The plan is to play him as a raumdeuter on the right side to offer a slight difference to our forward play.
When a notification then dropped that Spurs had bid for Pedrag Rajkovic, we were quick to move. We had been quoted 60m when looking to replace Mat Ryan a couple of seasons back and so a deal of 9.75m was considered a straight up bargain! He was a significant upgrade on Leo Chichizola, despite his solid performances. We cashed in on Mert Gunok who was surplus to requirements. I feel like we have locked in our man between the sticks for the next 8 years.
Next out the door was Joan Jordan. He exploded onto the scene after not really getting a look in and again the lure of a ‘bigger’ club in the Champions League was too much. Again we were able to extract almost his entire release clause after some protracted negotiations with Atletico Madrid.
The plan to replace his output is threefold. Ergys Kace will play more in a box to box role, moving up the field from his DM role previously. Secondly, the plan is to give Dragan Maksimovic more opportunities. Dragan is one of the many talented under 21’s at the club and needs first team games to progress. He’s an absolute beast physically and is progressing well with his technical skills. High hopes for the kid.
The third plank to the replacement strategy for Jordan was to bring in a defensive midfielder to replace Kace. To do that we turned to the new Mascherano, Emilio Santa Cruz. He had a solid year at Estudiantes and was primed for the step up. Has something to offer from dead ball situations and appears to have the strength to break up play. Very excited about what he can bring to the team.
Next man down was Federico Mattiello. Fede was one that we absolutely overpaid for in our first Janaury at the club. We were desperate for a solid right back and he was just that. Malaga came in for him and rather than keep an unhappy player, we cashed in.
With plenty of coin left in the bank, we struck quickly to steal what I think is one of the most promising right back talents in the world. All the big boys were interested but as the saying goes, early bird gets the worm. Welcome Marcos Castro.
What I love about Marcos is that he provides another look at right back with Mario Nunez. Mario is the more defensive option and will get a crack away from home, whilst Marcos will provide a more attacking option. Both are part of the Under 21 group we’ve bought and will attempt to develop.
The impact of these signings though was that we were projected to have four Non-EU players (Suk, Castro, Iturbe, Santa Cruz). We made the decision to move on Suk. He’d had a broken ankle for most of last season. This had provided the opportunity for Guillem Olivan to play and develop into a burgeoning star.
I fucking love this kid. The club had snapped him up just before I arrived for about 250k. I don’t think I’m overstating things to say it could be a signing that changes the course of the club. He’s deadly in front of goal but also showed a capacity to slip in midfielders who get beyond him. Man crush central.
Of course nothing is simple in life or FM and minutes after agreeing the deal with Watford for Suk, Juan Iturbe announced he’d taken on Spanish citizenship and was no longer a non-EU player! Nice juan Juan. Cashing in over value for your 30-year-old striker than hadn’t hit double figures in his entire career wasn’t a bad deal.
We had also agreed a deal to pick up a third striker. Sehrou Guirassy had a 925k release clause activated due to a relegation. Sehrou offers a little bit of a different look to Olivan and Batshuayi. His ability to play back to goal and be a physical threat, whilst happy to be a back up was just what we needed.
We also agreed a 500k deal for a 17-year-old Algerian striker Karim Benyache. He joins in January and could put immediate pressure on Guirassy.
The final drama was with Pepe Fajardo. He had spent a couple of seasons away from the club, but had super potential. The plan was for him to be the 5th central defender and to slowly feed into the first team to replace Aymen Abdennour. He could never settle and see those opportunities and after knocking back a number of offers Las Palmas met his 4.2m release clause. It was disappointing to see him move on due to his potential and club grown status.
We had to respond quickly, but our selected targets were too expensive at this point. Casting our eyes over the transfer list, Kevin N’Doram seemed a good target. Listed for around 2m but with underlying value of about 6m, he also presented some flexibility through the middle of the park as well as defensively.
In the meantime, we swept through preseason. Tactically we are trying to move on from the Counter / Structured approach of previous seasons. We will use that away from home but at home a Standard / Fluid system is what we are trying to use to get some more goals out of the entire team.
Off the pitch we have worked with the Board to upgrade our youth recruitment whilst also adding a further three scouts to our group. We also had our Europa League draw seeing us matched with Porto, Ajax, and Hapoel Be’er Sheva. Qualifying out of this group will be tricky but if we are serious about progressing as a club, progressing from this group will be important.
Finally the start of the season has been positive, despite only being two games in. We took a trip to Basque country against Athletic. We created quite a bit, but it took a second half strike from Olivan off a peach of a ball from Witsel to take the points. We then hosted Atletico Madrid, a team we lost to twice in the previous season. They had more on goal but it was mostly long shots. A tightly played game ended scoreless. A good four points to get the season away. Disappointingly, we haven’t seen much of an increased offensive game yet.